You do the Shake n’ Vac and put the freshness back! Do the Shake n’ Vac and put the freshness back!"
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to an old-school jingle. While those love-them-hate-them earworms will always have their place, music within advertising has come an awfully long way over the years.
A more ad-savvy and musically educated audience has demanded that we constantly innovate to challenge their ears in a cluttered ad break. But, for us, disruption is not the only consideration. Knowing that emotional response is strongly linked to an ad’s effectiveness, the most important question we ask ourselves is: "Does this music make us feel something?"
We work at a time when expectations of a 60-second piece of music are high. So high, in fact, that we
expect ads to have the power to launch pop careers, revitalise classic songs and even, through some heavy X Factor/Downton Abbey media investment, get you a much-coveted Christmas number one.
To hit these dizzying heights, though, ad music must touch the audience in a new way. It must evoke a credible and authentic emotion – be it intrigue, joy, fear, nostalgia – to make people feel something. As we all know, in this mature market, the UK public has become highly aware and cynical of marketing methods used to attract their attention and influence their buying habits. It’s evident in everything from casting to direction. The way men, women and children are portrayed on screen is a long way from the stereotypes depicted in the advertising of my childhood in the 80s.
There’s a consistent authenticity to these characters now. We’re seeing brands change their ethics – and, in turn, their brand messages – to reflect, and affect, the new "all informed" consumers and their need for on-screen genuineness. This desire for authenticity and heart is just as pertinent in music. Whereas artists were once hesitant about aligning themselves to brands, it is now a basic fact of life that every other broadcast commercial contains a piece of music that already exists within our cultural zeitgeist. This means music production companies are now, more than ever, in relentless competition with both topical and historical mainstream artists.
Often, creative teams, directors, account management and their clients buy into the cultural stamp of approval already given to a particular track or artist. The sync of well-known music brings a certified emotion and response to an ad.
It helps limit the chance of error in the execution of the creative, the public’s response to the ad and the overall goal of moving the product. Creatives and brands gravitate to these tracks because they already understand their emotional power. They can work with a tangible and established musical emotion from the very beginning of the production process.
So how do bespoke music producers combat this sway in culture and stay in the game?
To compete in this space, bespoke ad music must meet the standards of creativity and credibility set by globally recognised artists, ranging from the latest electronic producers to the most cutting-edge film composers to the best rock bands. We must do this with limited budgets and fast turn-arounds while accommodating a cacophony of different viewpoints. The benchmark is high and the conditions are tough, but we must meet these standards and evoke these emotions because if we don’t… Well, it’s mediocrity or bust.
"We must understand the creative journey"
There will always be a place for bespoke composition – always. Whether it’s because a film requires a very particular emotional structure, an original theme, a fusion of different styles, a creative team wanting to implement its own musical stamp or – and, let’s face it, this is more often true than not – there just isn’t the budget to clear a well-known track.
Rerecording existing works to fuse both the familiar and the bespoke is an increasingly popular strategy. As we all know, this tactic has been used to great effect over recent years. Another interesting strategy is to extract famous phrases from public-domain work and sample it within an original piece – something Siren did for Adidas and Foot Locker by fusing Gustav Holst and dubstep. But how do we successfully create a moving piece of music with an original composition?
The relationship between the music producer and the agency is an incredibly important one and should be nurtured. Communication is everything in composing music. First, we must understand the creative journey of the project in order to tap into the expectations and tastes of all the players involved. The success of the job lives and dies by this communication, which is often, surprisingly, lacking in many collaborations. This is curious considering the business we peddle is clarity of thought via creative means.
This success relies on the involvement of the agency creative and the producer as well as the music producer. We have to allow the creative team to feel safe enough in their direction to voice how the track should feel, as well as try to work out how to move the work on without sounding like a poor relation of the famous work that inspired it.
The work will only make people feel the way you want it to if there’s communication through comradeship. For there’s a deeper level of responsibility in creating bespoke music: one that comes from confidence on both sides and a joint desire to make something that will elicit that all-important emotion. Because, when that music works, and you’ve actually made that track together, you know the journey was worth it.
The next time you’re embarking on a crucial hunt for music, consider all your options. Composition is potentially one of your strongest. A bespoke, emotionally engaging piece of music… and it’s yours. You did it.
Sean Atherton is the company director and executive producer at Siren